Obama tells Noda of trade talk concerns

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

U.S. President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at their summit Monday that Washington has concerns over the auto, insurance and beef sectors with regard to Tokyo’s planned participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, a Japanese official said.

Obtaining consent from U.S. industries in these sectors and Congress is seen as essential for Japan to get the nod from the U.S. to formally join the regional free-trade negotiations.

The two leaders did not discuss a specific timetable for concluding the ongoing bilateral consultations, the official said, adding he believes Obama has a positive impression about Japan’s potential participation in the TPP talks.

The U.S. automobile industry is cautious about Tokyo’s entry into the TPP talks, arguing that Japanese regulations have barred U.S. carmakers from penetrating the nation’s market and that the bilateral trade imbalance will widen if Japan joins the tariff-cutting framework.

To join the market-opening talks, Japan needs to secure the approval of all nine countries already involved — Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Tokyo has won consent from six of them, while the United States, Australia and New Zealand remain undecided.

It remains unclear whether the United States will agree to accept Japan as a new partner of the TPP trade talks, as some U.S. lawmakers doubt Tokyo will be willing to abide by the ambitious standards the nine countries are aiming to achieve for trade rules.

Japan itself is apparently not ready to formally announce its plan to join the talks, because the country remains divided.

In yet another sign of rocky roads ahead, thousands of farmers rallied in Tokyo last week against participation in the TPP.

The Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (Zenchu) has campaigned vigorously against participation, saying a deal would reduce food security in a country where farmers — especially of rice — enjoy generous government protection, paid for by sky-high consumer prices.

Major businesses, academics and mainstream media have long pushed Tokyo to join the deal.